In March, the Senate approved the bill 28 to 19; the House voted 78 to 60 in favor.
?This is a progressive moment in Maryland and a new direction for our state,? said Kimberly Haven, Executive Director of Justice Maryland who had been disenfranchised due to a felony record. ?By signing this legislation, Maryland moves into the political mainstream. We applaud the commitment of the Governor and the members of the General Assembly who voted to support expanded democracy in Maryland.?
Prior to the new legislation, more than 110,000 Maryland residents were disenfranchised due to felony convictions, one out of every 37 residents. The state was one of only 11 with a permanent felony disenfranchisement policy, and one of only six states that disenfranchised some who had been convicted of misdemeanors. Among those with felony records nearly half (52,272) have completed their full sentence, while another 31% are living in the community on probation or parole.
?Maryland today goes from having one of the most complicated felony disenfranchisement systems in the country to one of the simplest,? said Renée Paradis, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. ?We applaud Maryland?s leaders for recognizing the need for change.?
Maryland joins a national trend of expanding voting access to people with felony convictions. Also in April, Florida paved the way to restore the vote to hundreds of thousands of people who had completed their felony terms, and previously were permanently barred from voting. In November, 2006, Rhode Island residents voted in favor of a measure that removed the voting ban for people under felony probation and parole supervision. As of today, a total of 39 states and the District of Columbia allow voting upon completion of sentence, if not sooner.
Since 1997, 16 states have taken steps to reform disenfranchisement laws, and prior to April 2007 more than 630,000 people had regained their voting rights, according to analysis conducted by The Sentencing Project.
?Maryland joins a reform movement that values fair voting laws which engage more citizens in the political process and restore rights when an individual?s sentence ends,? said Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. ?Antiquated laws still disenfranchise millions of Americans for their past mistakes. Changing these laws will contribute to successful re-entry and rehabilitation.?
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